Wednesday 11 December 2019

PAC just wants answers to troubling questions

The former charity supremo's escape from answering further questions has exposed a gaping hole that now needs to be filled.

Ex-Rehab boss Angela Kerins
Ex-Rehab boss Angela Kerins

Shane Ross

On Friday evening on the dot of 5 o'clock there was a knock on my door in Leinster House. It was a porter wheeling a trolley, stuffed with files.

"Weekend reading," he quipped, cheerfully.

He lifted the eight heavy files, put them on a table, winked and wished me a happy weekend.

I knew immediately what had landed. It was a midsummer missile from ex-Rehab boss Angela Kerins. She was serving all 13 members of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) with the evidence she believes is relevant in the case she has brought against us in the High Court.

It took me two trips to carry them all to the car. I brought them home and read them. Thank God I have a skip outside my front door.

I am getting used to Angela's antics. On Friday, she despatched more than a hundred files to Leinster House, channelled through Eames Solicitors. Each member of PAC was served with identical material. Most of the files contained endless press articles about the Rehab controversy, Angela's pay, her predecessor Frank Flannery's failure to appear before PAC and transcripts of our proceedings.

Angela has been visiting her lawyers a lot recently. Even the day before her appearance at PAC in February her legal team dramatically contacted the committee at the eleventh hour to set out parameters for the hearing.

A few weeks later, she used her lawyers to muzzle the Rehab board before its PAC appearance, forbidding it to disclose details of her salary or pension package. Last week, she surpassed herself. After being granted leave by the High Court to bring judicial review proceedings against us, she flooded Leinster House with thousands of pages of legal papers.

She had hired the high-octane barrister, former attorney general John Rogers, to represent her. Instead of retiring hurt from her bruising encounter with us, Angela has upped the stakes.

Angela may be energised by a minor legal victory. Two weeks ago, a senior counsel advised the Dail's supreme body, the Committee on Procedure and Privileges (CPP), that we at PAC could not compel her appearance as a witness because Rehab is not audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General.

The counsel's opinion has done us all a service. We now know where we stand. Remedial legislation that enables us to ensure that unwilling charity chiefs are fully accountable for their stewardship of public money is urgent. Angela's escape from answering further questions has exposed a gaping hole that needs to be filled.

Suddenly, she is seeking injunctions, declarations and damages galore. Specifically, she wants a judicial review stopping us from further investigating her work and salary in Rehab. She says some of us were biased and that PAC proceedings were unfair; that she was hospitalised as a result of the proceedings and she lost her job.

My own contributions to this newspaper were singled out as showing a clear personal animus. No such animus exists. I only remember speaking to her once in my life. A few minutes before her appearance at PAC we spoke in a very civilised way about meeting - at a later date - over the issue of Rehab's lottery .

Angela, the €240,000-a-year charity supremo, is aiming to become Angela the victim. More serious still, Angela is seeking the status of Angela the untouchable. Her insistence that we have no right to delve into specific aspects of Rehab's activities may, or may not, be supported by technical legal argument, but the wider consequences of her stance are utterly unacceptable.

If Rehab is outside our remit, Angela and Frank are untouchables. If she is right, public money or not, we have no business meddling in the charity, let alone her salary. She is openly defiant of our pursuit of Rehab's use of taxpayers funds, claiming that we are biased against her and are pursuing a political and personal agenda. Our probe is a PAC "witch hunt".

Members of PAC believe that Angela should account for the €83m a year that Rehab receives from the taxpayer, that she should have revealed hers and Frank Flannery's generous salaries and pensions package years ago, that at least part of her €240,000 is paid out of Rehab's take from the State and that we have been fair and patient in our attempts to hold her accountable.

We want answers about a series of troubling activities in Rehab, including the operations of a coffin-making company and the €409,000 Rehab consultancy payments to former chief executive, ex- director and close friend of Angela, Frank Flannery.

Her response has been defiant .

The contrast between Angela's appearance at PAC and the attitude of her former board colleagues is stunning.

While she appeared with all guns blazing, unhelpful in many areas, her board trooped in seven weeks later in a far more contrite mood. They put their hands up.

Rehab chairman Brian Kerr admitted that the response of the Rehab board to the controversies over Angela's antics had been "inadequate". He accepted that the board "have not exercised strict and appropriate oversight of certain issues."

He admitted they had made an "error" in not appearing at the last meeting after being requested to do so. Corporate governance lapses were conceded where the board had been "remiss". Clear water was poured between them and Angela. Asked if Rehab was "a weak board that was dominated by one individual for a long period of time" the chairman was not in denial mood. "It could be seen to be that. . . The board could have been stronger."

The directors knew the game was up. Consultant Eddie Molloy had been hired for a "transition" process. Finance Director Keith Poole pricked Angela's balloon when he asserted that: "We acknowledge and recognise our services are funded by the taxpayer and that brings with it both privileges and responsibilities."

Poole was one of the only Rehab directors to emerge with his reputation enhanced. In reply to a question from chairman John McGuinness, he blew a hole through Angela's insistence that her salary was out of bounds to PAC because it came, not from taxpayers' money but from Rehab's commercial arms. Poole responded to McGuinness by unambiguously asserting that taxpayers' money goes into the entity that pays Rehab staff salaries.

Chairman: "Including Ms Kerins?"

Poole: "Yes."

Chairman: "That is a fact?"

Poole: "Yes".

Angela's arrogance and Frank Flannery's refusal to account for their stewardship at Rehab is breathtaking. They have been urged by a multitude of independent parties, from the Taoiseach and Tanaiste down, to appear. Remember, Angela voluntarily came to PAC in February. Today she has changed her tune.

Both parties have introduced volumes of camouflage and irrelevant red herrings, accusing PAC members of political and personal agendas. We have even dared to speak to the media about the proceedings. So it was good to hear Frank Flannery talking to RTE's Sean O'Rourke and Newstalk's Pat Kenny last week!

Perhaps the reluctant duo should give former CRC chairman Hamilton Goulding a call?

A few weeks ago, Goulding appeared before PAC to explain his period in charge of the clinic. He could have ducked it and taken the Kerins road, the legal route. Instead, he came for a gruelling session that cannot have been pleasant for a man whose mother had founded a great organisation. He was a member of the board that presided over its fall from grace.

Goulding's evidence was up- front, honest and illuminating about the clinic's use of public money. It must have been difficult but he went a long way towards closing the curtain on a dark chapter.

At the end of his evidence his openness and his willingness to be accountable for public money won plaudits from all members of PAC.

Angela Kerins has chosen, instead, to kill accountability by swamping us with legal documents.

Expect a vigorous response.

Sunday Independent

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